Archive for March 2013
Terrific article by Curtis Brainard in the Columbia Journalism Review:
There’s still a gender gap in the sciences, with far fewer women than men in research jobs, and those women earning substantially less, but it doesn’t help when journalists treat every female scientist they profile as an archetype of perseverance.
Campaigns to recognize outstanding female scientists have led to a recognizable genre of media coverage. Let’s call it “A lady who…” genre. You’ve seen these profiles, of course you have, because they’re everywhere. The hallmark of “A lady who…” profile is that it treats its subject’s sex as her most defining detail. She’s not just a great scientist, she’s a woman! And if she’s also a wife and a mother, those roles get emphasized too.
Aschwanden cited a few examples littered with phrases like, “she is married, has two children and has been able to keep up with her research,” and proposed that, as a means of avoiding such gratuitous gender profiles, reporters adopt a simple, seven-part test. To pass, a story cannot mention:
- The fact that she’s a woman
- Her husband’s job
- Her child-care arrangements
- How she nurtures her underlings
- How she was taken aback by the competitiveness in her field
- How she’s such a role model for other women
- How she’s the “first woman to…”
Aschwanden dubbed her checklist, “The Finkbeiner Test,” in honor of her colleague, science writer Ann Finkbeiner, who had written a post for the blog Last Word on Nothing in January about an assignment she’d received from Nature to write a profile of a female astronomer. . .
I found the link in this fascinating article.
One week after the Senate held a symbolic vote in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. saw two different oil spills involving Canadian tar sands crude oil.
An ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured Friday, leaking approximately 10,000 barrels of tar sands crude in an Arkansas town. As a result, 22 homes have been evacuated as officials clean up of the world’s dirtiest oil:
Exxon shut the Pegasus pipeline, which can carry more than 90,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Pakota, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, after the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon, the company said in a statement.
The Keystone XL pipeline would carry almost nine times the barrels of oil as the Pegasus pipeline.
The first oil spill came Wednesday, when a train reportedly carrying tar sands oil spilled 15,000 gallons in Minnesota. Also this week, Exxon was hit by a $1.7 million fine for a pipeline that dumped 42,000 gallons of oil in the Yellowstone River in 2011 (the fine itself is a small hinderance for a company that earned $45 billion profit last year).
As one of the companies to profit from Canadian tar sands, Exxon often takes to its blog to defend its so-called safety. Big Oil lawmakers then repeat those myths despite evidence to the contrary. On Friday, the same day as Exxon’s oil spill, Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) claimed the pipeline is a “no-brainer” and passes environmental “muster.” The State Department recently issued a draft report claiming the pipeline will have no environmental impact, authored by a contractor with extensive ties to oil companies.
Tom Englehardt casts an eye on some significant US anniversaries:
It’s true that, last week, few in Congress cared to discuss, no less memorialize, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, two anniversaries of American disasters and crimes abroad — the “mission accomplished” debacle of 2003 and the 45th anniversary of the My Lai massacre — were at least noted in passing in our world. In my hometown paper, the New York Times, the Iraq anniversary was memorialized with a lead op-ed by a former advisor to General David Petraeus who, amid the rubble, went in search of all-American “silver linings.”
Still, in our post-9/11 world, there are so many other anniversaries from hell whose silver linings don’t get noticed. Take this April. It will be the ninth anniversary of the widespread release of the now infamous photos of torture, abuse, and humiliation from Abu Ghraib. In case you’ve forgotten, that was Saddam Hussein’s old prison where the U.S. military taught the fallen Iraqi dictator a trick or two about the destruction of human beings. Shouldn’t there be an anniversary of some note there? I mean, how many cultures have turned dog collars (and the dogs that go with them), thumbs-up signs over dead bodies, and a mockery of the crucified Christ into screensavers?
Or to pick another not-to-be-missed anniversary that, strangely enough, goes uncelebrated here, consider the passage of the USA Patriot Act, that ten-letter acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”? This October 26th will be the 11th anniversary of the hurried congressional vote on that 363-page (essentially unread) document filled with right-wing hobbyhorses and a range of provisions meant to curtail American liberties in the name of keeping us safe from terror. “Small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats rushed to support it back then. It passed in the Senate in record time by 98-1, with only Russ Feingold in opposition, and in the House by 357-66 — and so began the process of taking the oppressive powers of the American state into a new dimension. It would signal the launch of a world of ever-expanding American surveillance and secrecy (and it would be renewed by the Obama administration at its leisure in 2011).
Or what about celebrating the 12th anniversary of Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force, the joint resolution that a panicked and cowed body passed on September 14, 2001? It wasn’t a declaration of war — there was no one to declare war on — but an open-ended grant to the president of the unfettered power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” in what would become a never-ending (and still expanding) “Global War on Terror.”
Or how about the 11th anniversary on January 11th — like so many such moments, it passed unnoted — of the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, that jewel in the crown of George W. Bush’s offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, with its indefinite detention of the innocent and the guilty without charges, its hunger strikes, and abuses, and above all its remarkable ability to embed itself in our world and never go away? Given that, on much of the rest of the planet, Guantanamo is now an icon of the post-9/11 American way of life, on a par with Mickey Mouse and the Golden Arches, shouldn’t its anniversary be noted?
Or to look ahead, consider a date of genuine consequence: the CIA’s first known assassination by drone, which took place in Yemen in 2002. This November will be the 11th anniversary of that momentous act, which would embed “targeted killing” deep in the American way of war, and transform the president into an assassin-in-chief. It, too, will undoubtedly pass largely unnoticed, even if the global drone assassination campaigns it initiated may never rest in peace.
And then, of course, there are the little anniversaries from hell that Americans could care less about — those that have to do with slaughter abroad. If you wanted to, you could organize these by the military services. As last year ended, for instance, no one marked the 11th anniversary of the first Afghan wedding party to be wiped out by the U.S. Air Force. (In late December 2001, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, eradicated a village of celebrants in eastern Afghanistan; only two of 112 villagers reportedly survived.) Nor in May will anyone here mark the ninth anniversary of an American air strike that took out wedding celebrants in the western Iraqi desert near the Syrian border, killing more than 40 of them.
Nor, this July 12th, to switch to the U.S. Army, should we forget the sixth anniversary of . . .
Ian Urbina has an interesting article (which includes a video) in the NY Times:
TAYLORSVILLE, N.C. — Sheri Farley walks with a limp. The only job she could hold would be one where she does not have to stand or sit longer than 20 minutes, otherwise pain screams down her spine and up her legs.
“Damaged goods,” Ms. Farley describes herself, recalling how she recently overheard a child whispering to her mother about whether the “crippled lady” was a meth addict.
For about five years, Ms. Farley, 45, stood alongside about a dozen other workers, spray gun in hand, gluing together foam cushions for chairs and couches sold under brand names like Broyhill, Ralph Lauren and Thomasville. Fumes from the glue formed a yellowish fog inside the plant, and Ms. Farley’s doctors say that breathing them in eventually ate away at her nerve endings, resulting in what she and her co-workers call “dead foot.”
A chemical she handled — known as n-propyl bromide, or nPB — is also used by tens of thousands of workers in auto body shops, dry cleaners and high-tech electronics manufacturing plants across the nation. Medical researchers, government officials and even chemical companies that once manufactured nPB have warned for over a decade that it causes neurological damage and infertility when inhaled at low levels over long periods, but its use has grown 15-fold in the past six years.
Such hazards demonstrate the difficulty, despite decades of effort, of ensuring that Americans can breathe clean air on the job. Even as worker after worker fell ill, records from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that managers at Royale Comfort Seating, where Ms. Farley was employed, repeatedly exposed gluers to nPB levels that exceeded levels federal officials considered safe, failed to provide respirators and turned off fans meant to vent fumes.
But the story of the rise of nPB and the decline of Ms. Farley’s health is much more than the tale of one company, or another chapter in the national debate over the need for more, or fewer, government regulations. Instead, it is a parable about the law of unintended consequences.
It shows how an Environmental Protection Agency program meant to prevent the use of harmful chemicals fostered the proliferation of one, and how a hard-fought victory by OSHA in controlling one source of deadly fumes led workers to be exposed to something worse — a phenomenon familiar enough to be lamented in government parlance as “regrettable substitution.”
It demonstrates how businesses at once both suffer from and exploit the fitful and disjointed way that the government tries to protect workers, and why occupational illnesses have proved so hard to prevent.
And it highlights a startling fact: OSHA, the watchdog agency that many Americans love to hate and industry often faults as overzealous, has largely ignored long-term threats. Partly out of pragmatism, the agency created by President Richard M. Nixon to give greater attention to health issues has largely done the opposite.
OSHA devotes most of its budget and attention to responding to here-and-now dangers rather than preventing the silent, slow killers that, in the end, take far more lives. Over the past four decades, the agency has written new standards with exposure limits for 16 of the most deadly workplace hazards, including lead, asbestos and arsenic. But for the tens of thousands of other dangerous substances American workers handle each day, employers are largely left to decide what exposure level is safe.
By contrast, OSHA has two dozen pages of regulations just on ladders and stairs.
“I’m the first to admit this is broken,” said David Michaels, the OSHA director, referring to the agency’s record on dealing with workplace health threats. “Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people end up on the gurney.” . . .
At moments, “The Lessons of Watergate” conference, held a couple of weeks ago in Washington, D.C. by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause, was a little like that two-man roadshow retired baseball players Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson have been touring. In it, they retell the story of the catastrophic moment during the bottom of the last inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series, when the Mets’ Wilson hit an easy ground ball toward Buckner of the Red Sox, who haplessly let it roll between his legs. That notorious error ultimately cost Boston the championship.
As The New Yorker magazine’s Reeves Wiedeman wrote of the players’ joint public appearance, ”It is as if Custer and Sitting Bull agreed to deconstruct Little Bighorn.” Or those World War II reunions where aging Army Air Corps men meet the Luftwaffe pilots who tried to shoot them down over Bremen.
So, too, in Washington, four decades after the Watergate break-in scandal that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. Up on stage was Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame, one of the first victims of Nixon’s infamous “plumbers,” the burglars who went skulking into the night to attempt illegal break-ins — including one at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.
“I want to add something to the history here that I’ve never told,” Ellsberg said, then asked. “Is Alex Butterfield still alive?”
A voice shouted from a corner of the room, “I’m over here.”And sure enough, it was Alexander Butterfield, former deputy to Nixon chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, and a pivotal if accidental notable in the Watergate saga. In July 1973, Butterfield let slip to the Senate Watergate committee that Nixon made secret audiotapes of all his meetings at the White House, a revelation that cracked the scandal wide open.
We never did hear the story Ellsberg wanted to tell; he decided he needed to clear it with Butterfield before he went public. The Common Cause event was filled with such slightly surreal moments, kind of like a Comic Con for history buffs and policy wonks. Just moments before Ellsberg spoke, I had been chatting with former Brooklyn Congresswoman Liz Holtzman, when Butterfield walked over, introduced himself and told Holtzman, “I was in love with you even when I was at the White House.” Holtzman was a prominent member of the House Judiciary Committee that in July 1974 passed three articles of impeachment against Nixon. He resigned less than two weeks later. . .
Continue reading. As the article notes:
Many of them did hard time. Today, we couldn’t even get miscreant bankers to resign in exchange for their billions in bailouts, much less prosecute them for criminal behavior.
Read this Juan Cole post and watch the (3-minute) video.
I am no fan of professional team sports, an enterprise that seems ripe with avarice, corruption, and a general contempt for good behavior. Joe Nocera has a good example in the NY Times:
In 1966, Beryl Shipley, the basketball coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, recruited three African-Americans to play for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Although the school, now known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, had accepted black students since the mid-1950s, its teams remained segregated — as did every college athletic team in the state.
Louisiana’s board of education quickly moved to stop Shipley. First, it demanded that Shipley hold practice a week earlier than N.C.A.A. rules allowed. Then, according to “Slam Dunked,” a book Shipley wrote with Ron Gomez, the board told the school that athletic scholarships could only be granted to whites. Rather than cut his players loose, Shipley funded the scholarships with money raised from local boosters.
The board of education reacted by informing the N.C.A.A. that Shipley and the university were in violation of N.C.A.A. rules.
An organization with a moral compass would have refused to allow itself to be a pawn in a segregationist effort to preserve an all-white team. But the N.C.A.A. has never had a moral compass. So instead, it assigned a new hire, Warren Brown, to investigate, and, in 1968, it issued the first in a series of harsh penalties: two years’ probation, with no television or postseason appearances during that time. Shipley left college coaching, in disgust, in 1973. Brown rose to become the N.C.A.A.’s enforcement chief.
What brought this long-forgotten story to mind was the sight, on Thursday, of another coach who’d been railroaded unfairly with the willing participation of the N.C.A.A. Tim Cohane, 70, sat in a federal courthouse in Buffalo, while his lawyer, Sean O’Leary, argued that his long-running lawsuits against the N.C.A.A., the Mid-America Conference and SUNY Buffalo, where he was once head basketball coach, deserved to be heard by a jury. Cohane’s essential complaint is that in 1999, a new athletic director, Bob Arkeilpane, ginned up a series of phony N.C.A.A. rules violations to force out Cohane. (As a state employee with a contract, Cohane was difficult to fire without cause.)
And, once again, the N.C.A.A. obliged. Although the primary alleged violation — watching prospects work out in a gym — is incredibly insignificant, the N.C.A.A. charged Cohane with unethical conduct and hit him with a dreaded “show cause” order. Any school that wanted to hire him as head coach would have had to explain its decision to the N.C.A.A. Branded with that Scarlet “A,” as O’Leary put it in court, Cohane’s career as a college head coach was over.
In legal terms, the importance of the Cohane case is that, should he win, the N.C.A.A. would be labeled a “state actor.” It would then have to employ real due process, just like any state agency. It would upend a 25-year-old Supreme Court ruling, in a famous case involving Jerry Tarkanian, the former head coach at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, that the N.C.A.A. was not a state actor. Thus it could treat those under its purview as shabbily as it saw fit — which it has done ever since.
At the hearing, the N.C.A.A.’s lawyer argued that the case should be tossed solely because . . .